“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13,34)

And by the  “Faith and Homosexuality Commission” of the Baptist, Methodist and Valdensian Churches

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”   (John 13,34)

1)      With the example of his own life, Jesus sets a model which is not so much to be imitated as lived: “Just as I have loved you” is actually much more than a model: it is an open possibility. The solid existence of Jesus, made of flesh and blood, was tangible to his disciples and he offers it already during the institution of the Paschal Supper. This is gift is not parcelled out in rules and regulations, in conditions or disciplines.

2)      In his farewell discourse, Jesus does not quote as elsewhere from the Levitical law “You shall love your neighbour as (another) yourself” (Lev 19,18); indeed, it is by now no longer a question of fulfilling the law through the summary of all commandments or through a “golden rule”. This is a “new commandment” (v.34).  As a matter of fact, it cannot be commanded, as it has to flow from the depths of a person who knows she or he is loved. This is true of the Son (5,17 8,14 10,17) who knows where he comes from and that he is loved by the Father.

3)      The limitation of the commandment “you shall love your neighbour as (another) yourself” is that I cannot be sure I love myself, or even know what it means to love. Perhaps I don’t love myself, but rather think I love the person, image and expectations that others have projected onto me. I may not really love myself, or might not even know who I am. So, from that point of view, I wouldn’t know how to love

4)      Jesus invites us to take his love for us as a foundation for our lives – his way of loving us. We are asked to love one another “just as” he has loved us. In John’s Gospel we find the expression of this love:

a) a love that respects otherness and diversity; Jesus dialogues with individuals who are different from himself and “doesn’t judge anyone” (8,15), whether it is Nicodemus (3,1-11), the Samaritan lady (4,7-40) or the captured woman (8,1-11).

b) a love that places the person at the centre: not religious or ceremonial purity laws, or the Sabbath, but the person in all her or his complexity. Think of the Bethzatha paralytic (5,2-10) or of the man born blind (9,1-38).

c) a sacrificial love: he calls his disciples (both male and female) friends, not servants, even if he wilfully makes himself a servant (13,12-16) and gives them what is most precious to him: his own life (10,11).

5)      Before we can love “like Jesus” we must have the awareness that we are loved by him. This is why his words are not addressed to the “world” but to the community of disciples, and we are invited to a reciprocal love. He washes his disciples’ feet before asking them for an act of service. As in Peter’s case, we need to allow Christ, who is Master and Lord, to wash us our feet.

6)      The world will know we are his disciples if we have love for one another. Love for one another is not a feeling to try, but a deliberate act, a choice. Jesus loves his own till the very end, and Judas is among them.

7)      Why is it a new commandment? Because it is unheard of, it draws inspiration from the life, testament and passion of Jesus. God shows God’s love to us through God’s human face, who is Jesus (3,16).

Further reflections for the Watch:

1)      Christ has loved me just as I am, without wanting to change who I am and without accepting stereotypes and prejudices that others or even I might have imposed on myself. His love casts out fear (I John 4,18)

2)      I too can love myself just as Christ has loved me, and with this self of mine I can love my brothers and sisters. Precisely because it is loved, my deep identity does not need to hide any longer, I can love with, not without, my sexual orientation, my corporeality, my soul and intelligence, having become aware of who I am.

3)      Jesus’ love flows from his abundant life: his first miracle is performed during a marriage feast – he changes water into wine (2,1-12); he multiplies the loaves because he is the true bread (6,51); he opens the eyes of the blind because he loves life and gives it freely (10,10). Love and abundant life go together.

4)      This love is not denial of sexuality and of its various orientations. Jesus’ passion is not for death but for life. He does not detract intense desire from gift and fellowship (Luke 22,15). Without this eros drive there would be no life drive.

5)      But love goes together with truth and freedom. Jesus’ love is expressed as a drive for truth. Truth sets us free (8,32), and only if we are internally free, our love will be disinterested. The word of Christ will free us from a false identity that is attached to us or imposed by religion, family or culture. (3,1-13, cap.4).

6       This truth, often in chains, can disturb us as it unsettled Pilate, but it shows us the way to freedom. We often don’t feel at home, we don’t sense we belong to the household, because we have not faced the painful truth about ourselves. Even if we fancy we are free, we might be simply reciting our normality script. (8,31-36). It will be difficult to love ourselves unless we welcome ourselves and realize we are accepted for what we discover to be before God. Difficult to love others if we haven’t joyfully welcomed our unique, inalienable, unrepeatable existence, and if we expect others to deny themselves in order to adapt to cultural and religious norms required by a given society.

7)      Love flows from freedom; freedom is a conquest of truth; truth is revealed in the word of Christ – a word very near to us, in our mouth and in our heart (Deut. 30,14), that does nor betray what is human (1,14) and relieves us from condemnation, while exposing our fears and illusions, our ambiguity and presumption.

8)      Christ loves us, and in loving us he restores us to ourselves, to the deep Self that longs for freedom. From Christ we receive the gift of love, penetrating beyond our masks, fears, and illusions clothing us and those around us, so that we reach the deep Self that cries out for recognition and asks to be welcomed in its otherness.

9)      The love-kingdom of this king in chains before Pilate is not of this world. It goes against nature, it does not accept the natural order of things: it does not leave victims of patriarchal oppression under the sin of connivance (8,1-11), or allow those who cannot see to stay blind (ch.9), but sets them free from pre-set and predetermined roles; this king of love sets those who cannot walk on their feet, on a responsible journey, freeing them from the illusions of religion and fortune (5,5-14).

10) Jesus shows his liberating love on a Sabbath, to prove that love is not a prisoner of institutions, not merely something sentimental or comforting. It is a transformative love: the seventh day of Divine rest (the Sabbath) is expressed by Christ as God’s intervention to heal and to value all creatures in their stages of development. (5,17).

11)   The Son makes the person loved free, not only because he respects her or him in their essence, but because he also transforms them in what they should be, in what they want to be. The price of freedom is high: it requires unveiling, i.e. the truth about ourselves (8,32). Love pays the price of freedom, but never without the truth (18,33-38).